Friday, March 06, 2009

Governor's Budget Bill would Gut HEFPA Shared Meter Protections for Tenants in Two and Three-Family Dwellings

The Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA) is New York's Bill of Rights for utility consumers. Landords of two and three family dwellings frequently attempt to shift energy costs for heating equipment and water heating and lighting to tenants. To address chronic problems of landlords shifting to tenants the cost of utility service consumed outside the tenant's apartment, the Legislature amended HEFPA to add section 52 of the Public Service Law, declaring that shared meters are against public policy. Known as the "shared meter law," section 52 requires utilities to investigate shared meter situations and when discovered, to put the shared meter account in the owner's name, and to rebill shared meter service for the preceding twelve months.

The Governor's proposed budget for 2010 contains a substantive provision in part MM that would amend the Public Service Law to allow owners of two and three family buildings to avoid the twelve month rebilling of service. As a result, they can have shared meters until they are detected, with no adverse financial consequences.

Enactment by the Legislature of this stealth provision would be an open invitation to landlords to violate and eviscerate the shared meter law, to the detriment of many low income tenants who reside in such housing. Also, for the reasons stated in Governor's Budget Bills Would Allow PSC to do More Utility Deregulation, a budget bill that needs to be negotiated in the next three weeks is hardly the place to consider substantive revision of the duty of landlords not to shift utility costs to their tenants and the consequences of violation of the shared meter law.

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